Soul star was backup to James Brown
USO dates for servicemen in Vietnam. She said she made the potentially hazardous trip because, in her words, “The soldiers needed to see a sister who wasn’t an Oreo cookie.” Backed by the Brown band and produced by Soul Brother No. 1, Whitney cut several singles for King Records. The biggest of them, “It’s My Thing (You Can’t Tell Me Who to Sock It To”), an answer to the Isley Brothers’ hit “It’s Your Thing,” reached No. 19 on the U.S. R&B chart in 1969. It lent its name to the singer’s album of that year. After Whitney quit Brown’s group, she recorded without success for Excello’s Nashboro imprint and the Isleys’ T-Neck Records. However, her best-known work lived on in samples: Her Brown-produced tracks “It’s My Thing” and “Unwind Yourself” were sampled by the likes of DJ Kool, Sway and, just last year, chart-topping rapper Mac Miller. Whitney’s 2006 collaboration with Japanese funk band Osaka Monorail led to a new full-length album, “I Am What I Am,” and tours of Japan and Europe. She outlived her former mentor and boss by six years: James Brown died on Christmas 2006.